Quick-Fire Double Turns Over Tykes
Portsmouth 2 Barnsley 0
Two goals in two minutes from David Norris and Luke Varney saw Pompey defeat Barnsley in the first match of the post-Cotterill era.
It seemed like things hadn't changed after a poor quality first half devoid of many chances and inspiring football. However, the shackles seemed to be released in the second half and the team played with much more freedom.
There were positive signs from the start as Stuart Gray and Guy Whittingham handed a start to Ricardo Rocha who had been out of favour with Cotterill, whilst the players were playing in a 4-4-2 formation.
A tepid match should have seen the visitors take the lead after some poor defending allowed Jim O'Brien to cut through the Pompey defence. His pass was cut out by Halford but the ball broke to Ricardo Vaz Te who could only "Quashie" his effort over the bar.
Pompey soon began to take control of the match and carved a few chances out of their own. Varney's audacious long range curler sailed wide whilst Halford headed Lawrence's corner over.
Then, the best piece of play of the first half saw a neat passing exchange end with Norris's cheeky chip almost finding the back of the net but Luke Steele managed to claw the ball away and keep it from an onrushing Benjani.
Keith Hill's men hit straight back as Jacob Butterfield was given space to have a shot from 25 yards that crashed off the post with Stephen Henderson stranded.
That action was the highlight of a drab first half and as Pompey came racing out of the blocks in the second half, it seemed like things really hadn't changed after Cotterill's departure as his management often saw an improvement after the break.
But this was different, the players upped the tempo for a sustained period and seemed to enjoy playing their football.
Erik Huseklepp should have given Pompey the lead when Lawrence squared the ball to him but the Norwegian scuffed his effort which allowed Stephen Foster to clear the ball off the line.
The pressuere continued and Pompey finally broke the deadlock after Barnsley failed to clear the ball which fell to Norris who teed himself up for a fantastic volley past Steele.
That fantastic goal was followed by another straight from kick-off as Dave Kitson, on for Benjani, did well to beat his man down the wing and square the ball for Varney who swept the ball in at the near post.
Henderson was forced into a good save to deny Butterfield but after that Pompey cruised to victory with Norris missing a good chance.
Can you remember how long has it been since Portsmouth eased to a comfortable win by more than one goal? Not since the midweek win over Scunthorpe back in March where Pompey won 2-0.
That was hardly comfortable, though and I would personally say that yesterday marked our first relatively comfortable win since February 12th when Pompey beat Doncaster 2-0 away from home.
You could be negative and say that the first half still had the hallmarks of Cotterill's philosophy, with long balls again being pumped in Varney's direction and you may also claim that Barnsley were poor and a better team wouldn't have lost to Pompey based on yesterday's performance.
That may be true but I'm feeling far more positive about this season now and I walked out of Fratton Park entertained following such a dominant second half display, which is something I haven't said for a long time.
Attention will now turn to who will replace Cotterill in the long term. Dave Jones is the bookies' favourite and there are rumours that he may be set to take charge before Tuesday's trip to Ipswich.
Whoever it is that takes charge, they will have a good squad to work with that proved yesterday that they are capable of playing good football and achieving something this season.
Pompey Player Ratings
Stephen Henderson: 7 - A couple of good saves in what was a solid showing.
Greg Halford: 7 - Some crucial blocks and a threat going forward.
Jason Pearce: 6 - Solid performance.
Ricardo Rocha: 6 - Good return to the side.
Tal Ben-Haim: 7 - Showed his skill.
Liam Lawrence: 6 - Still needs to sharpen up a bit.
Hayden Mullins: 6 - Got stuck in as usual.
David Norris: 7 - Superb goal, played with more freedom than usual.
Erik Huseklepp: 5 - Quieter than in previous games and should have scored.
Luke Varney: 8 - A constant threat.
Benjani: 6 - Worked hard.
Joel Ward (Huseklepp 84): N/A - Late change.
Dave Kitson (Benjani 58): 7 - Impressive when he came on, worked hard and made the second goal.
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